Do We Really Need a PM-CARES Fund When We Have the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund?


Do We Really Need a PM-CARES Fund When We Have the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

In order to mobilise efforts in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Modi announced the formation of a Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief In Emergency Situation Fund (PM-CARES), for those willing to donate to India’s war against COVID-19.

Since the March 28 announcement, contributions continue to pour in. Everyday Indians chipping in with whatever they can, celebrities like Akshay Kumar, Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Katrina Kaif and Kartik Aryan making hefty donations.

Organisations like the IAS Association and Sports Authority of India as well as corporates such as L&T and Reliance Industries have made announcements relating to their contributions to the fund.

Yes, there’s no debating that India needs more funds to fight the pandemic and any contribution by its citizens will go a long way in this war against Covid-19. However, there is genuine confusion and many have questioned the rationale for the creation of a separate fund when the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) already exists to deal with disasters and calamities.

Salman Soz of the Congress pointed out that the PMNRF has an unspent balance of ₹3800 crore, as income has exceeded expenditure over the past few years. Why was PM-CARES created then?

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had a similar view. He asked PM Modi to explain the need for another fund. “Why not simply rename PMNRF [Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund] as PM-CARES, given the PM’s penchant for catchy acronyms, instead of creating a separate Public Charitable Trust whose rules & expenditure are totally opaque.” Tharoor tweeted.

Historian Ramachandra Guha critiqued the self-aggrandising name – PM-CARES –  asking whether a national tragedy should be used to enhance a cult of personality.

According to CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury, the fund should have been called “India-CARES”. “We all care about our fellow-citizens and their well-being and must help in every way,” he tweeted.

Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai asked the government for greater transparency in relation to the need for a separate fund and why only a 50 per cent tax rebate was given for PM-CARES as opposed to a 100 per cent tax rebate when donating to the PMNRF.

The questions continue to be raised. One can only hope that the government, already facing backlash over the handling of migrants, comes clean on transparency issues and other concerns. Politics needs to take backseat as the need of the hour is to unite in this fight against COVID-19.